He was there as I battled cancer

Thursday April 08 2021
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By Joan Salmon

It was love at first sight for Tabitha Nabuliba and Aziz Haruna who met at a mutual friend’s wedding in Hoima in January 2012.

“The moment I saw him, I jokingly said to myself, “Wow, he will be my husband.” Since he was busy helping guests check into the hotel, the first encounter was just a quick hello,” Tabitha says. 

Later in the day, feeling under the weather, Tabitha decided to leave early.  However, a car had blocked hers and after the announcement for the owner to come and move it was made, Aziz appeared. “I literally melted when I saw him,” she says.  

His first words to her were, “Why are you leaving so early?”  Looking at his handsome face, Tabitha froze, failing to answer. She also quickly jumped into her car and waited for him to get his car out of the way.

To Aziz, this was rude. However, all Tabitha could think about that afternoon as she dosed off was his image in a kanzu and coat.

Meeting again

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They met again at the after-party and a smitten Tabitha went to the washroom several times, even without need, just to draw his attention. However, he seemed oblivious of her until she summoned courage to ask him for a dance. 

“He turned me down and it hurt so bad I could have cried.  I decided to drown my pain by screaming and wildly dancing with my girlfriends,” she says. Then, she felt a tap on her shoulder and on turning, it was Aziz. “I was confused. The same person who had turned me down was now asking for a dance. Head or heart, the heart won once again and I danced,” she says.

Aziz, with a far off gaze as though to revisit the scene, says none of them was looking to be in a relationship then.  Later, he learned through friends that she was taken.

“My wife is a beautiful woman so it was immediate attraction.  However, now I had to abandon any idea of courting,” he says.

That said, Tabitha was everywhere, first in his mind, in the parking lot and at the party.  The latter, Aziz stayed glued to his sit, secretly watching her.  “Earlier, I had been told she was coming to the wedding with her partner. However, I noticed she  was alone from  arrival  to  checking  into a room, then hanging out with other  women, save at the wedding when I saw  them  seated next to each other but devoid of any  chemistry.  She later left alone,” he says adding that when she first asked him to dance, although he really wanted to, Aziz declined because he needed to be sure there was really no one else.

Stumbling block?

However, Tabitha was battling breast cancer at the time. Naturally, Aziz got a little scared at first, more so the first time Tabitha took off her wig.  “On this day, I saw her completely bald.   Secretly, I called my friend who knew her and relayed my fears to him for I had never come across anyone with cancer. Initially,  I thought it was something else  which  Tabitha  had  kept secret,” Aziz says, adding that learning that  she had been  battling  cancer made him love her the more and ignited in him the need to protect and help  her through it all.  “I think I fell in love with her even more,” he says.

Rock

Tabitha says apart from undergoing cancer treatment and the effects of chemotherapy, she was also going through a heartbreaking split from a previous relationship, and was at the same time at university studying.  With that, she was taking it slow but love happens and it happened. 

“We did not know how it was going to work as it all happened in the last week of my holiday and I was about to return to the UK. On the other hand, he was between countries with work,’’ she says adding that leaving technicalities out, they embraced what they had and left it to fate.

Aziz reminisces of that day he bid her farewell at the airport. “It was painful and all of sudden, I just found myself telling her, “I love you,” before we parted. Back in his car, Aziz felt he had left a bit of him behind so he chose to drive to Tanzania where he had work commitments.  A few hours into the journey, he received a phone call from Tabitha’s friend (the bride) that Tabitha was on her way back. 

“I turned back immediately, driving straight to the airport to wait for her.” On arriving in the UK, Tabitha had booked a return ticket without even leaving the airport.

However, with studies to pursue, Tabitha later returned to the UK. “However, I minimised the time spent away from him so I would make frequent short trips to Uganda. As long as we were in each other’s company, that is what mattered to both of us,” she says. She adds that it was a blessing meeting someone during her cancer treatment.  “Yes, the battle was not easy but I was not alone and because of his love and support, I am now cancer-free,” she says.

Challenges

Most challenges faced were before they got married, the most pressing being religion and cultural differences.  “He was Muslim from an Arab/Indian and partly Ugandan decent while I was Christian and purely Ugandan. Friends did not think the relationship would last while he did not think his family would easily accept me,” Tabitha says.

Also, it so happened that every time she was free to travel and visit, it was during the month of Ramadan.  “As a Christian, and not yet his wife, we could neither touch and I could not cook for him. It was not easy,” she says.

Fully aware of this, on April 2, 2014, before the next Ramadan, Aziz asked Tabitha to be his wife. “Without planning anything, we got married the next day.  While he told his parents and invited his siblings to the mosque, I asked my father, friends and siblings to find Muslim outfits and meet us at Kibuli Mosque,” Tabitha says, adding that she converted to Islam on the same day and later hosted their guests to dinner at the Tamarai Restaurant in Kololo, Kampala.

“We do not even think about first, second or third year of marriage.  I guess we have been married from the day we met for nothing changed.  I only became a Muslim and with religion sorted, the rest was easy,” Tabitha says.

 Aziz says his love for Tabitha is still as strong as the first time he saw her. “Like in any marriage, we have our ups and downs but hold onto each other because of love. We fight and make up instantly,” says Aziz. “He is calm, treats me well, understands me and lets me always win the battles!” she says. While Tabitha is yet to have her own children, she is a mother to four lovely step children.

Advice

Aziz emphasises the need to marry your friend and to practice patience and compromise.

Tabitha says commitment is between two people.  “Only you two know what is behind closed doors, thus in charge and others see what you choose to show the public. If you do not work together to mend the cracks created, no one else can. Share and celebrate both the good and the bad. Also, remember the hardships are lessons that can make you better partners,” she says.

Managing the distance

To sustain a long distance relationship, they turned to technology.  “We also see each other more often in the year having decided that I have an easier schedule. That way, I come to Uganda often, usually staying for four to six months at a time,” Tabitha says.

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